[An UPDATE is HERE]
On the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Ana Swenson breathlessly writes “that research suggests …[p]eople who have kids in the United States and in many countries around the world report being less happy than people who don’t have kids.”
Ah-HA! This must be why DirecTV is certain that promoting a device that it facetiously suggests would make your kid disappear will appeal to its customers!
Except that Swenson’s headline is click-bait, her article is irresponsible and incompetent, and the study is politically motivated junk, as such things usually are.
“Research” doesn’t suggest this politically manufactured finding. A single dubious study may suggest it to those who already are inclined to be dubious about parenthood, and who could also be persuaded to buy valuable swampland property in Florida. If you aren’t smart enough to bale on both the “study” and Swenson after this statement central to the issue, I have little hope for you:
“On average, an American parent reports being 12 percent unhappier than a non-parent in America – the biggest gap in the 22 countries the researchers looked at, followed distantly by Ireland.”
What (the hell) does it mean to be “12 per cent unhappier,” or “12 per cent happier”? Happiness is not quantifiable like that, nor can it be measured with that kind of precision, or any kind of precision. Gee, what is the margin of error in that 12 %? Is it 12%, +/- 3%? I’m trying to think of two states of happiness I have experienced in which I could say with any certainty that I was 12% happier/ 47% happier or 71% happier in one more than the other, and if I can’t determine that, how are a bunch or researches going to do it?
Let’s see—did discovering I had to undergo a circumcision at the age of 30 make me 12% more unhappy than I was when the Red Sox lost Game 6 of the 1986 World Series? Did watching the T-Rex beat the Indominus Rex in the dino-showdown in “Jurassic World” make me 12% happier than when bought our home for a bargain, or 12% less? You know, I really can’t answer that. Both made me happy in different ways. Did my happiness that my dad died the way he wanted, with dignity and in his sleep just short of his 90th birthday, exceed by 12% the happiness I felt when my final performance at my theater company got a deserved standing ovation, though I was also saddened that my dad wasn’t there to see it?
Please, O Wise and Researchers, enlighten me! They can’t. Of course they can’t. Nor can they tell me how to quantify the happiness my son has given his mother and me, even though he has driven and almost certainly will continue to drive us out of our minds with worry and worse on a regular basis, and has cost us a lot of money we will surely miss when we are dreaming about finally seeing Paris. Am I 12 % less happy than I would have been with a son more like I was, a non-rebellious, conventionally obedient, healthy and lucky kid who sailed through school and never got in any serious trouble? No, because then my son wouldn’t be the unique, amazing, gutsy and original individual he is.
Swenson’s report is filled with statements that make it clear that this is politically motivated entitlement and anti-child propaganda (and thus pro-abortion propaganda). The smoking gun comes early:
The researchers examined the differences among these countries to figure out what might be causing the happiness gap. They conclude that U.S. policies – or, more accurately, the lack of them – are likely to be the fundamental cause, by increasing the cost and the amount of stress and anxiety that parents feel.
The United States provides minimal assistance to parents, including paid parental leave, mandatory paid sick and vacation days, subsidized child care, and work schedule flexibility, they say. And parenthood is also unusually expensive in the United States, due to the high cost of private education and a lack of public subsidies for childcare. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that a middle-income American family is likely to spend $234,900 to raise a child born in 2011 to age 17. If the kid goes to college, that figure may double.
In contrast, countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland and France have extensive social safety nets and supportive family policies, Glass says. Russia and Hungary continue to maintain certain Soviet-era policies that take care of families. In Portugal and Spain, extended family networks tend to help take care of kids. And all of these countries have more extensive policies to support working families than the United States, Glass said.
This is reverse-engineered junk-science advocacy for socialist government, and the Washington Post is promoting it as a non-partisan revelation.
“What we found was astonishing,” the researchers write in a briefing that explains their findings. “The negative effects of parenthood on happiness were entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations.”
Astonishing! Who would have suspected that an academic study on parental happiness would result in such findings!
“The good news, the researchers say, is that there is nothing inevitable about the parental happiness gap. And there may be some relatively achievable solutions for improving the happiness of American parents – like subsidizing childcare, or expanding access to paid vacation and sick leave.”
Just elect Bernie Sanders President, and you won’t want to go back in time and eliminate your kids! It’s so easy!
This despite the fact that the researchers admit that cultures define happiness differently—
“Comparing happiness around the world can be a difficult task, the researchers say, because concepts of happiness tend to differ among cultures. So the researchers stick to examining the difference in the happiness reported by parents and non-parents in the same country, saying this measure of “the relative effects of parenting” should help them identify exactly what factors contribute to parental stress.”
—so cross comparisons tend to be “difficult”….as in “impossible.”
Is your bullshit alarm ringing yet?
If not, why not?
Here’s how one group of prominent Americans, for example, define happiness (this isn’t in the study):
The song omits the percentages, for some reason.
Finally, ten closing observations…
1. I couldn’t find any link that describes the methodology of this parody of legitimate research. This isn’t surprising, since purporting to measure happiness is like measuring hate, love or fear: it is unquantifiable, since every individual’s standards are different.
2. I know a lot of couples who decided not to have children, and the lack of government subsidies for parents wasn’t a factor for any of them. The #1 reason? They didn’t want children. Does the study distinguish between the demographics of childless parents, with older couples being more likely to regret the lack of children in their golden years? If it does, the Post doesn’t say so.
3. Since people who want children and people who don’t have different goals and standards for happiness, they can no more fairly be compared than different cultures’ versions of “happiness.”
4. The study suggests that happiness is the primary goal of existence. Many philosophers disagree with that contention. (So do I.)
5. Would I forfeit 12% of whatever these researchers call happiness to bring a child into my family? Sure. But what does that even mean? And if doing it would make me happier than not doing it…never mind. The “study” is as tautological as it is stupid.
6. I can tell the researchers exactly why non-parents purport to be “happier” than parents, and the reason differ from their counterparts in other cultures. The United States culture values personal liberty above all else, and having children represents sacrificing a great deal of that liberty for the life or lives on another. “Happiness” is an inadequate and nearly irrelevant measurement for the rewards of parenthood.
7. If you had any question why journalists swallow all scientific research (and non-scientific research) as revealed truth, this fiasco should answer them. They are frequently gullible and intellectually lazy, especially when studies purport to support the political agendas of their pet ideology. They don’t understand science, and they are uncritical reviewers.
8. Would I be shocked if this study turned out to be a hoax? No. I’d be relieved. It’s disturbing that research this misguided and biased ever gets a green light.
9. The Post’s editors should have dinged this credulous report on an incredible study, and the fact they did not indicts their competence as well as that of Swenson and the researchers, Jean Twenge, W. Keith Campbell, and Craig A. Foster.
10. Finally, regarding the click-bait headline: since happiness is completely subjective, nobody can say anyone is “probably lying” when they say that their children make them happier, and the headline’s literal contention, that any parents who say this are “probably lying” is a misrepresentation even if you take the study seriously.
Pointer: Other Bill